This seemed like the best place to ask this question since it's design related but I'm sorta more interested in the reasons behind this trend and any A/B testing that may have been done.

The trend being, that its rather popular to setup Pricing Packages with a pre-selected "Most Popular" or "Most Value" type heading. For example:


enter image description here

This is just an example.

My personal opinion is I don't like these, as a user, but I'm in the process of creating a website with pricing plans.

Every design my friend and I have come up with, we cannot find something that visually works that doesn't look out of place.

SO My question is, do these really work? Do they provide value and are there any studies that back this up? Or has anyone had experience where this has worked for them?

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  • I don't have any solid studies to link to, however, when I've been involved with similar pricing pages, I'm repeatedly told by marketing personnel that these highlight greatly skew sales to that product. – Scott Aug 31 '15 at 8:09
  • Wooo who ever downvoted atleast tell me why. :( – Phill Aug 31 '15 at 8:12
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    That is a marketing question, not design one (Sorry I downvoted it for that reason). There is a lot of diference between most popular, which should involve disclosure of the sales of the company and best value, which can be done by simple math, but is deceptive, becouse normal users have no idea what the bandwidth or space they are going to use. – Rafael Aug 31 '15 at 8:13
  • Thanks for commenting @Rafael I added marketing tag to this. I think it's half/half because half of marketing is also design (in regards to web design) but there's no stack exchange that fit more marketing side. (that I know of) – Phill Aug 31 '15 at 8:15
  • Yea. I am not sure about the rest of the exchange forums. Probably a marketing and content forum could be interesting. – Rafael Aug 31 '15 at 8:19

It works, but it's not the tags. It's much more interesting:

Framing and the Goldilocks effect

On persuasion techniques, the Goldilocks effect is used by designers to direct a user towards one "best choice", by simply making the other choices either have just basic features (free or cheaper, but not good enough) or too many features (too expensive, too many superfluous add ons). That way, by means of framing, the right choice seems to be the one the designer intended all along: the middle one.

Framing, as Smashing Magazine puts it:

This principle acknowledges that people aren’t very good at estimating the absolute value of what they are buying. People make comparisons, either against the alternatives you show them or some external benchmark.

Also, since we are on the persuasion topic, the "Most Popular" label on the option works as Social Proof, another technique often used. Nielsen and The baymard institute have run tests on the effectiveness of this technique with positive results (I'll look for those if I can). But what I know you can do to boost that result is tell the user not just that it's pupular, but how many people chose that. e.g.: "87% chose this" "5.900 People bought this". That way making that claim, "most popular", more tangible.

Read more on the Goldilocks effect here: http://shortboredsurfer.com/2010/09/27/understanding-the-power-of-the-goldilocks-effect/

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  • Picked this answer because of the link. But all answers have been awesome. Thanks a lot. – Phill Sep 10 '15 at 5:10

It's some basic marketing "neuro-programming"; They often add that "popular choice" for people who have no clue about what they're buying but want the safe choice. That is, I believe, the market that fall for this in general.

The premium and cheapest options are often the "sidekicks" that will influence the final choice; the cheapest choice is expensive when compared to the middle one (a.k.a. popular choice) in term of value, and the premium one is too risky for a quick purchase. That creates a funnel effect toward the product the provider wants to sell easily and for which the profit margin is still good. That tactic is not meant to influence people who take their time before getting their credit card number in the checkout, it's meant to affect people who need to take a decision quickly and don't want to make a mistake. If you'd buy a car but had absolutely no knowledge of the 3 brands, you'd probably also go for the middle choice unless you can easily afford the premium option.

I've seen a lot of websites where the wholesale premium option has purchase limits or is said to be "unavailable due to high demand" (it's bologna as you guess); for some products that "middle" best choice option is the one that is the most profitable.

Does it work?

On a certain market as I mentioned above, I think it does.

Regarding marketing studies on this, I guess it works exactly the same as putting a sticker "BIG SAVINGS ONLY TODAY" written yellow on red on a pickle jar that is 1 penny cheaper than the normal price. Some customers can be gullible, naive or lead by their emotions, especially when they don't research first what they need to buy. There's a disconnect with their critical thinking when that happens and marketers love it.

Is it annoying on layouts?

Bah. Ok I'll admit it's not fun on web projects.

To add some balance, I like to use ribbons or badges for this kind of thing, or add other "titles" to the 2 other groups (eg. Starter, Best Choice, Premium OR Trial, Most Popular, Best Savings, etc.) But I think the badges work best and you can add them on the images if you have any.

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    I want to just add that a rational buyer is far far from the norm in any category. If people were rational buyers our markets would be fractipn of what they are now. – joojaa Sep 1 '15 at 4:22
  • @joojaa Yes, I agree. We're all irrational to some degree, and usually in the categories we have the least knowledge about ;) I guess it's human's nature to find some "landmarks" when a choice must be made ("popular choice' is one) and usually we also trust that the providers are well intentioned; so we go with what seems logical and fair, depending on the financial value we're willing to invest on that purchase. In the end, even when we're not getting the real value on our purchase, we're not always aware of this, so it doesn't really matter... ignorance is a bliss! – go-junta Sep 1 '15 at 4:29
  • Ahh the good old big savings, or sales technique, that my GF uses to empty my wallet. I didn't think of it like that at all but it does make sense. Thanks for the reply. Wish I could accept more than 1 answer. – Phill Sep 1 '15 at 4:33
  • @Phill Yes you get it. And for the "accepted answer" go with your heart... NO, don't! ;) Choose any, or wait. You might get more, who knows. – go-junta Sep 1 '15 at 4:42

From a marketting and sales perspective designers, developers and engineers often get things wrong. While beautiful, tastefull, elegant, exciting etc. design is often something the design crowd aspires to. Truth of the matter is that junk is also a viable marketing strategy especially when one tries to diversify product ranges.*

Cheap has to have the quality of cheap. Otherwise its hard for you to charge premium elsewhere. It is in fact hard to design cheap looking pages that still are projecting dependability.

Second humans are bad at appraising value on goods they do not commonly buy. Pricing is a function whats available. Lack of options is confusing and scary. By putting two categories next to each other your building a baseline for what is cheap and what is not. It would probably be even better to have a third: Super premium option, thats way too expensive to be considered. Anyway the gist is humans rarely want to buy the cheapest option, by giving them some visible excuse to shift gears they will probably migrate to one of the popular center offers. The persons who dont fall for this trick, either cant afford to or are experts that aren't easily swayed by tricks as they know what they want.

If you want some entertaining but deep insight into this i suggest reading:

  • Undercover Economist
  • Freakonomics

* I know this and still dont like the idea one bit.

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  • Thanks for the awesome reply, and book suggestions, just got a bunch of book vouchers so I'll pick one of them up! – Phill Sep 1 '15 at 4:30

You'll never know whether it works for your own scenario until you do your own A/B test. However in many cases it actually works. Ugly looking red buttons and stuff like that really draws attention and stand out of the rest.
From our questionnaires we understand that choosing "popular" item people think others have already done some research and this is a good option, especially when the price is not much different.

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